Tax increment financing leaves NP council divided

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NEW PALESTINE — A decision by the New Palestine town council on whether or not to use TIF (tax increment financing) to help a builder move forward with a $61 million apartment complex proposal is in limbo following a split vote.

The council discussed the issue at length with community members Wednesday night on whether or not they wanted to give the builder, Becovic Management, at least a $5 million TIF bond.

The TIF bond would guarantee money coming in for the project and would allow the builder to secure the funds to break ground. Without the special bond, Becovic representatives have made it clear the project will not move forward.

The upscale apartment complex is set be built behind the Hancock Wellness Center complex near the southwest corner of U.S. 52 and Mt. Comfort Road and will have 282 units. They are supposed to have 102 single-bedroom, 148 two-bedroom and 32 three-bedroom units with rent ranging from $1,100 to $1,900 a month.

Since approval of the project several months ago, Becovic officials have since come back to town officials asking for the special tax bond, saying they could not secure the financing without showing a revenue stream coming in.

Council president Bill Niemier and council member Chris Lytle voted in favor of signing a preliminary resolution to allow the multi-phase bond process to at least get started. Council vice president Clint Bledsoe and council member Angie Fahrnow voted no, creating a 2-2 deadlock. Council member Brandee Bastin abstained from the vote since she works for Hancock Regional Hospital who own the 27 acres to be used for the apartment complex build.

During the meeting, a few members of the community voiced their concerns about the bond where the initial proposal calls for the developer to get 75% of the tax monies to create an income stream while the town’s redevelopment commission would get 25%, or an estimated $160,000 to $200,000 per year to use as they see fit for town needs. Without the bond, New Palestine officials would not have any type of surplus money coming in from the 27 acres owned by HRH.

New Palestine Main Street’s Julie Lucas said the town is behind the curve when developing spaces such as parks and a community center for residents. She wants town officials to create a new town hub. Niemier suggested some of the money generated from the TIF could be used to build a community center, a place that could house a new town hall.

Longtime New Palestine resident Jake Gumberts was against giving a TIF bond. He noted the town has been doing well for decades without providing incentives to developers.

“I’m not anti-developers because it’s going to happen… But, they need us. We don’t need them,” Gumberts said. “I kind of liken it to when the Pilgrims landed and told the Indians how much they needed them… Go ahead and ask the Indians how that turned out.”

Niemier noted town officials are on record as saying they want high-quality growth in the area, and the high-end apartment complex meets those goals.

“Hospital officials have been approached by several developers, and they’ve said ‘no’ because the quality was not what they wanted,” Niemier said. “Being at that intersection is the perfect location, and it causes the least disruption with infrastructure and the rest of this town.”

Fahrnow said she didn’t have enough information on the issue. The topic has been discussed at several town council meetings including a meeting where town officials had an accountant, Buzz Krohn, discuss the TIF proposal at length.

“I need to have all the information in front of me, and I don’t feel like I have all of that,” Fahrnow said. “I don’t want to hear about any back door things or things that were promised — I just want the information.”

Niemier balked at the suggestion of any type of secret deals and said he has shared all information with all council members that he has been given from the town’s manager and the developer.

“We’ve talked about this for months and months,” Niemier said. “There are no back door deals or underhanded collusion because I went and visited their property.”

Bledsoe said the first he heard about the developer needing a TIF was in February and that town officials have never really had a chance to discuss the issue.

“I’m not in favor of this at all,” Bledsoe said. “It leaves the door open for every developer to come in and ask for the same thing.”

Town manager Jim Robinson said the project is a good one for the community. He noted many towns and cities use tax bonds and abatements to help developers and suggested the council vote in favor of the resolution to help bring more positive growth to the area.

The council will try to settle the issue when they take up the matter again at a meeting slated for 7 p.m. June 1. They’ll more than likely take a re-vote, and if the issue is still deadlocked the town’s clerk treasurer, Yvonne Jonas, would then cast the deciding vote. Jonas was not present at the most recent town council meeting earlier this week.

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